Aidan Burley — the Tory MP notorious for attending a Nazi-themed stag party in the French Alps — is in trouble again. Reporting that Tory MPs have been banned from an all-expenses-paid junket to Sri Lanka this week, the Telegraph suggests that Burley is one of 14 MPs that the human rights-abusing regime boasts are prepared back it in parliament. One Tory MP tells the paper he has been offered “whatever he wants”, including luxury holidays.
In one of the three interventions that Burley has made on Sri Lanka he challenges an MP’s human rights criticisms on the basis that she had not been to the country on free junkets, like he had:
“She has mentioned lots of second-hand evidence in her speech so far, but when did she last visit Sri Lanka and see for herself—at first hand—some of the things that she is alleging are happening there?”
Incidentally, one of the things that “allegedly happened there” is Burley proposing to his girlfriend, Cannock Chase councillor Jodie Jones (above inset). No mention of the happy news in the Register of Members’ Interests, where the trip was described:
“To meet Government Ministers, Opposition MPs, business figures and the Sri Lankan High Commission in advance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference (CHOGM) later this year.”
We’re glad Burley took some time out from his romantic holiday to actually do some work.
The Tory hijacking of country all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs), loose but often influential forums for MPs and peers to discuss issues relating to particular territories, has been under way since at least the summer. Often longstanding APPG officers have found themselves surplus to requirements owing to their awkward questions on human rights abuses.
The victims of a series of mini putsches have made way for Tories who are rather more interested in trade relations, an emollient approach to London-based diplomats — and plenty of free trips abroad.
The Labour chair of the China APPG was ousted in July, replaced with a more on-message Conservative. Chris Bryant then escaped the axe as the convener of its Russian counterpart by just 13 votes this Monday, after Tories at the AGM argued that human rights issues should only be discussed by the official Human Rights APPG.
The officer positions on some groups were already dominated by the Conservatives — notably the Sri Lanka APPG, who appear to have stopped inviting Labour colleagues on delegations to the country (a six-day visit to war-torn areas comprised eight Tories and Ian Paisley Jr).
Having no Sri Lankan community in his north east constituency, James Wharton MP (pictured above with high commissioner Chris Nonis) invoked the familiar “business interests” mantra when recently attempting to justify his four trips in nine months to the human rights-abusing state, claiming:
“I’ve got a number of companies on Teesside that do a lot of work out there.”
When asked to name one, however, he appeared stumped.
His fumbled response has set tongues wagging in Westminster: could there be some other reason why Wharton is so keen on visiting South Asia?